Scene & Heard

Russian roots to ’American roots music’

RON HARTMAN/CHRONICLE PHOTO – Melissa Ruth and the Likely Stories perform a lively version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” on Saturday night at the Brewstation on Sixth Street in Cottage Grove.

COTTAGE GROVE – Imagine all the questions you would have – especially in today’s war-torn world – if your parents grew up in Russia.

Melissa Ruth shared some of those thoughts Saturday night at the Brewstation, offering up her feelings in a song, “Nashi Lyudi,” which translates to “Our People.”

“My dad’s family is of Doukhobor origin. The Doukhobors were a religious group in Russia who were being persecuted in the late 1800s,” Ruth explained after the show. “In the early 1900s, they were brought to Canada to seek refuge. Over time, relationships between some members of the Doukhobor community and the Canadian government grew strained, even soured. It became complicated, and by the time my dad was a kid in the 1950s he was taken away from his home in a Doukhobor village during a pre-dawn raid and sent to a residential school in New Denver, British Columbia. He lived there for six years of his young life, where he was taught English and kind of ‘unlearned’ aspects of his culture, as residential schools do. 

“So the song is my story of being the daughter of someone who had their culture forcibly taken as a young child. 

“How come Dad can speak Russian but I can’t, and how come he doesn’t speak it to me? How come Dad doesn’t tell me about traditional clothing, or about traditional prayers and food? Why am I learning this from someone else and not him? It made me really realize he was trying to protect me in some way.”

That’s one example of the depth, the purpose, and the pure passion and heart that goes into her writing.

“I’ve been writing songs since I was 15 or 16 and in that process I’ve tried on a lot of hats,” Ruth said. “There was a time I went through a ‘cutesy’ phase and everything was a little ditty. It wasn’t until I started writing from a real emotional place that I started finding my voice and I’m finally finding a group of songs that feel true to me.”

The band – called Melissa Ruth and the Likely Stories – also wowed the audience with its cover songs, as “St. James Infirmary” and “Don’t Think Twice, I’m All Right” afforded trumpet player Matt Hill of Roseburg an opportunity to do his thing. 

“I like to do the songs that I enjoy singing, plus those were songs where we get to showcase Matt on trumpet,” Ruth said, “I also enjoy singing Amy Winehouse because I love her.”

But don’t try to pin Ruth down on one genre … that’s not happening.  

“I love American roots music – I always do a tagline for our music as Doo-Wop Twang: It has the space of blues, the teeth of country and the grit of rock-n-roll. Nobody really knows what it is, which is a pretty accurate description of our band.”

“We’re a band of music teachers, except for Scoop (McGuire), who is a ridiculously in-demand bass player who plays for a lot of great bands in Eugene. 

“Our band has only been back together for six months, but we love playing in places like Cottage Grove and Oakridge,” said Ruth, who lives in Umpqua along with her husband and lead guitar player Johnny Leal. 

“We did a few shows this past summer and we’ve been working on a record this winter. Johnny and I played pretty steadily throughout Covid as the Midnight Darlins.”

McGuire and drummer Cameron Siegal are Eugene residents.



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos